Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Paris, Texas

Finding a movie boring after longing to watch it for months is indeed a frustrating experience. Such was my state of mind, when I had to sit through the 2 hours and 20 minutes of Paris, Texas. It had been suggested to me by my trainer at a filmmaking course. I had fought with salesmen in most of the famous DVD stores of Mumbai having been told umpteenth number of times, “No sir, we don’t have it and we haven’t even heard of it”. So obviously when Ranjit messaged me that he has downloaded Paris, Texas from torrent, I was really happy.

Lets start with the story. For those who dislike people revealing the story, I think it doesn’t matter in this case. It starts with a man in mid 40s walking aimlessly in a desert somewhere in South Texas. From his appearance, you can make out that it’s been more than a while that this fellow has been roaming in wilderness. Someone informs his brother, who comes up and takes him back to Los Angeles. It turns out that this fellow had left his home some four years back after a troubled relationship with his wife. His wife couldn’t bring up their son on her own, so she left him in the care of this guy’s brother and his wife. Four years have lapsed since then and the kid is now ten years old. He obviously can’t take his father for his father upon his return. But soon the non-existent bond between the father and the son develops. They flee from the house in search of the kid’s mother. They find her in circumstances, which are the only pulse-racing moments of this otherwise staid film.

Coming back to why didn’t I like it. One, for its sheer length. I think it shouldn’t have been even a second more than 90 minutes. In ethereal films, length is the most important factor. Two, apart from the end, the most important part of the film is how the kid accepts his real father and leaves those whom until yesterday were his parents. There is not a single scene, which explore this. How on earth can we expect a kid, who is staying with his parents in a superb bungalow in Los Angeles, leave everything for a father, who he is sure is somewhere close to a nomad. My understanding of things is: Kids are really selfish, for they love themselves the most and are yet to understand the importance to reciprocate.

Imagine this scene. The duo of father and kid are in search of his mother. They are staying in a hotel room. The father has found the mother and he is finally going to tell her about the whereabouts of the kid. But he thinks that he still can’t bridge the gap with her so he chooses to go out of their life. He records a message for the kid. Sitting alone in a hotel’s room, which is overlooking a plethora of steel structures and is entirely devoid of intimacy, the kid is listening to that message. There is absolutely no change in his facial expressions. From the exterior, he is as normal as he was in the bedroom of his home in LA. How can we expect that the lack of intimacy (at such a young age) and an emotionally disturbing message are having no visible impact on the kid?

I cannot convince myself that this is even a good film let alone being a great one. I think the writer and the director understood the psyche of escapist father and husband well enough, for it is easy to think like an adult. However, they completely failed to understand the psyche of a kid.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On Benegal

Years ago when I watched Ankur, I couldn’t understand why it was so depressing and difficult to relate to. Needless to say, I didn’t like the film. I had also ruled out the possibility of ever liking Shyam Benegal's work. That was until a friend of mine suggested me to watch 'Bhumika' - a real life story of flamboyant Marathi actress Hansa Wadekar.

Bhumika starts with Smita Patil dancing in front of male audience with heavy make-up. The heroine credited with making dusky looks acceptable in Hindi cinema was wearing so much make-up that I cursed Benegal for making her look unnaturally white. That was until I realised that she is playing an actress in the film. As Smita moves out of sets, the shining face becomes rather grim and she is sans make-up. There is not a stray of gray in her hair, but her body language suggests that she is not in early 20s. Cut to the scene, she comes to her home. A middle-aged man with ample gray in his hair to suggest so, is waiting for her. He doesn’t look old enough to be her father. He doesn’t look young enough to be her husband. He can be a husband still, given that men are fond of younger women. But his body language doesn’t really suggest so. Benegal doesn’t establish their relation yet, and they plunge into an argument. Smita pulls the arm of a girl. Again from Smita's looks its tough to believe that she is her daughter. Smita screams at the middle-aged man (played by Amol Palekar), "Will you ever stop blackmailing me through this young girl". The young girl looks more like Smita's younger sister and I got the vague idea; may be Amol Palekar is actually her father and this young girl her sister. Well that was until Smita changes her saree in front of Amol and its only then after I guess some 10 minutes of screen time, that I realised that he is and for sure is her husband and the young girl her daughter. Well that is Benegal - a man who doesn’t spoon-feed his audience, who doesn’t reiterate the obvious and who expects his audience to have a minimum intelligence quotient.

Last week, I watched Junoon. A period film directed by Benegal in 1978. The film is set in 1857. A group of rebellious sepoys have butchered few Englishmen at a church in Delhi. The firebrand leader of the group is Naseeruddin Shah and one of his acquaintance is Shashi Kapoor - who too is a rebellious sepoy - not as much a hardliner as Naseer though. Shashi falls in love with daughter of a murdered Englishman. He gives shelter to the daughter, her mother and her grandmother. He is arrogant, since sepoys were getting better of their masters then. Yet, he is in love with the English girl - who very well knows that people of his ilk have butchered her father. I don’t want to divulge the story, as that would kill the fun of watching the film. But yet again, the detailing done by Benegal is exceptional. The characters speak exactly the same kind of language spoken around Delhi and Merrut those days. Ismat Chugtai wrote the dialogues in Urdu and you feel as if you are transported to 1857. The actors work really hard to get the body language right. Naseer and Shabana Azmi are so believable as fanatic leader and a possessive wife that you wonder if you are looking at actors or real characters. The surprise of the lot is Shashi Kapoor, who plays the pathan madly in love with English girl, while being still married to Shabana Azmi. Its utter pity that Shashi Kapoor had to play second fiddle to the macho men of 1970s in the “so-called” commercial films. His urdu is approximate if not accurate, his body language is right too, his eyes do a lot of talking. Benegal uses several mediums to depict that era. So the film starts with a peer prophesizing the demise of British rule. I was comparing Junoon with the most successful period film - Lagaan. A film set in Champaran in Gujarat, while the characters speak in Avadhi. No matter how hard Aamir Khan works, he is miles away from Naseer and Shashi. Moreover, Ashutosh Gowariker takes him clean-shaven making him and through him the film look even more superficial.